The Oceania Marina has a delightful blend of informality, elegance

The Oceania Marina has a delightful blend of informality, elegance
Moai facing the Oceania cruise ship at Tahai. (Millie Ball)

It was the itinerary that persuaded me to sail on the Oceania Marina, but it's the ship that made me want to return to Oceania Cruises.

The 66,084-ton Oceania Marina, new in 2011, sailed 18 days in December and January from Valparaiso, Chile, to Papeete, Tahiti. Stops included Robinson Crusoe Island, where a castaway's story from 1704 inspired Daniel Defoe's novel; Easter Island (overnight); and Pitcairn Island, home to descendants of mutineers on the Bounty.


Then it was on to the French Polynesian islands of Fakarava (charming and non-touristy) and Bora-Bora (many over-the-water hotels) before disembarking in Papeete.

Oceania is a sister line to the deluxe, all-inclusive Regent Seven Seas. Oceania's Marina and Riviera carry 1,250 passengers; three other ships carry 684 each. The line offers small-ship intimacy with upscale amenities and fantastic food at prices that are more affordable than at very high-end lines.

Some would go stir-crazy with 10 sea days, but I enjoyed relaxing and going to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub and culinary classes, playing deck games and listening to live classical and popular music. Competing for an easy chair in the library (with fake fireplace) was a popular sport.

The Marina didn't have big-name lecturers or as many courses as many of the high-end lines, but the ship did have a wonderful blend of informality and elegance. You don't have to dress for dinner. And, to our delight, fellow passengers were enthusiastic travelers and weren't country name-droppers. They really wanted to discuss travel.

Most were faithful to Oceania, whose fleet of fans I have joined.


Pitcairn Island residents regale Oceania Marina passengers with history

The sea was too rough to take tenders to Pitcairn Island, the Oceania Marina's captain announced somberly. We would miss the place associated with "Mutiny on the Bounty," a novel based on the true story of the uprising led by Fletcher Christian against Capt. William Bligh.

So Pitcairn residents came to us in their longboat. Most of the 45 Pitcairners are descendants of nine British mutineers who escaped from the Bounty and 16 Polynesians who found the unmapped British outpost on Jan. 15, 1790. They still celebrate the burning of the Bounty on the 2-mile-long, 1-mile-wide mountainous island.

Meanwhile, aboard the Marina, the scene was like Black Friday in a posh lounge. Passengers bumped into one another as they examined bowls, jewelry, sculptures and honey, all made on the island, as well as T-shirts and stamps.

I paid $35 for a carved wooden bowl made and signed by Shawn Christian, the mayor of Pitcairn, as I learned when the captain introduced him before Christian narrated a tour of the island as we sailed around it.

A day earlier, his second cousin Jacqui Christian, 44, who was heading home on the Marina, spoke to a packed house in the ship's theater. As stylishly dressed as a New Yorker, she said more cruise ships have added Pitcairn to their itineraries, and work continues on a second, safer harbor, all news that's in a monthly newsletter, ($20).

Besides getting the Internet, islanders now have electricity from 7 am. to 10 p.m. daily, thanks to a generator, and they receive CNN.

Building an economy and attracting more tourists is a race against time. "In 10 years, 85% of Pitcairn's residents will be 65 or older," Jacqui wrote to me in a recent email. "Children typically attend school in New Zealand and don't return because there are no jobs."

For now, she said, the best way to set foot on the island or stay for a home visit is to take the two-day voyage aboard the island's 12-passenger Claymore II freighter from Mangareva, French Polynesia. The catch? There's a two-year wait list.